TBT: La Beauté de Paris

Photographs I took during my trip to Paris this summer

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Authentically Aurora

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Paris – Day 5

Sunday was our planned day trip to Versailles, so Rachel and I got up early and started our morning at Kozy, a breakfast cafe she’d found on Yelp. It was unremarkable and fairly westernized, with hipster chalkboard menus hung on the walls and written entirely in English. Regardless, any morning begun with a latte and chocolate croissant is a good morning!

We finished breakfast, walked to the Metro, bought our RER C tickets and got on the train for the anticipated hour-long ride. At the Javel stop, we were surprised to spot the original Statue of Liberty out the window. Pretty cool.

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Once at Versailles, we found it to be beautiful but crowded. Our Paris Museum Passes were supposed to gain us entrance to the Palace and Gardens, but at the gate to the gardens, we were told we had to buy an additional ticket for entry since the water show would be held later that evening. I argued with the attendant that their website said water shows were only on Saturdays (it was Sunday), and anyway, that day’s show was at 8:30 PM and it was only 10:00 AM. We would be long gone by the time the water show started.

The ticket puncher wouldn’t budge, so Rachel and I went to the nearby Versailles Cafe to burn off some steam. But the line was out the door. So we went to the Versailles Laduree. They would only sell a minimum of six macaroons at a time; customers had to buy an entire box at once. Beaten down, we got in line for the Palace. Over an hour later, we made it inside, where we waited in yet another line to go through security.

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The Palace was ornate but, in my opinion, not worth waiting for. Even the Hall of Mirrors – the entire reason I wanted to visit Versailles – was so full of people that the effect of the potential majesty was lost. The grandeur of the famous glass and crystal hall was diminished by all the madding crowds.

I also made the observation that all the paintings were of wars, French nobility or Greek mythology. One of the rooms is even called the Apollo room, but there is nothing remotely biblical throughout the Versailles Palace, at least not that I could see. I found that curious, considering how prominent biblical paintings and sculptures are throughout the rest of Europe, regardless of what the current inhabitants believe.

Ready to leave Versailles the instant the tour was over, Rachel and I took the train back into town and had lunch on Rue Cler. I ordered a Cobb Salad from Cafe Central; then we both got Nutella ice cream cones, which we took to a nearby park where little French children were playing, climbing trees and splashing water on each other from the fountainhead. It was interesting watching the French children play; they were very adventurous and active (and frequently without pants…?). Although we were in the midst of Paris, they acted like rural kids would in the States.

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We continued on to the grassy area around Les Invalides, where I laid in the grass for a while before putting in earbuds and walking around the park, quietly singing worship music over the people there. I felt the void of having missed my church community that morning, and I longed for God to be praised in this place.

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It was a beautiful day – sunny and 75 – so Rachel and I walked to Place de la Concorde; then through the Carrousel Garden and Tuileries Garden. We made it back to the greenery around the Louvre, where we were joined by Thomas and sat talking for a while before heading home to our Airbnb. As before, the Metro skipped over our Passy stop (perhaps it only stops at certain stations after a certain hour of the evening?), so we again walked home from Trocadero, rewarding ourselves with much-needed hot showers after climbing the 127 steps to our shared room. And then? Sweet sleep.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 4

Hardware SocieteOpting to start our Montmarte morning in that section of Paris (the 18th arrondissement), Rachel and I enjoyed a continental breakfast at Hardware Societe just down the street from Sacre-Coeur. When I ordered my breakfast of a cafe au lait with roasted peaches and oats in yogurt, the adorable waiter – whose leather apron was fitting in light of the cafe’s name – told me with a smile, “Your French is perfect!” When we left, he asked hopefully, “See you tomorrow?” We seriously made friends left and right. What is that my boss keeps saying about my inability to win friends and influence people? 

IMG_6212.jpgWalking back toward the hilly Sacre-Coeur, we saw children feeding pigeons and were greeted by the peaceful sounds of a harpist. Down the street, we found Place du Tertre where local street artists sketched portraits of tourists. I enjoyed watching their skill unfold as they captured the unique markings of each of their subjects.

Continuing on to Rue des Abbesses, we stopped in to a number of Montmarte boutiques where I found a cute bracelet for Ashley and a fashionable coffee mug for myself. Lunch was at Creperie Broceliande, where I ordered the Mont Blanc – a chocolate banana crepe that was the best crepe I’ve ever had in my entire life, which is saying something, considering I’ve had crepes in Greece and also make my own in a crepe pan at home. If you ever go to Paris, definitely check this place out!

We also tried the Cuillier coffee chain, found it average, and headed over to the 3rd arrondissement to check out Merci, a nonprofit shop that is part cafe, part boutique and part home goods store. It was neat to see, but everything was outrageously overpriced, and the store was also overcrowded. On the plus side, I ran into more people from my hometown, and the shopkeeper thought I was French when we conversed briefly. Victory.

IMG_6304On the Metro on our way to the Arc de Triomphe, I kept catching a tall brunette guy looking at me. When we got off a few stops later, I glanced his way and found him still watching, so I smiled politely at him as I exited the platform. Rachel and I strolled down Champs-Elysses, taking in the sights on foot and peeking in Laduree before coming to a stop at the end of the street at the Arc de Triomphe.

When we were crossing a crosswalk on our way back down Avenue des Champs-Elysses, I sensed rapid movement behind me and turned to see the tall brunette from the Metro hurrying across the street toward me before the light turned red. “Hey.” He said something to me in French, and when I looked dumbfounded, he asked in English, “Do you remember me from the Metro?”

“Of course,” I said, and he introduced himself as Thomas (Toh-mah), a native Parisian. He waved over to his friend Benjamin (Bah-jah-mah), who joined us shortly. Rachel and I had just finished all of our touring for the day, so when they invited us for coffee, we agreed. I realized Thomas was steering us toward a Starbucks, so I suggested we go to a local cafe instead.

IMG_6361.jpgThomas stopped cold. “You are a difficult woman.” I just laughed, and we went to Starbucks. Thomas had thought I was Eastern European, so when he found out that I’m an American (and have shot guns), he added to my descriptors: “You are a dangerous woman!”

Rachel and I learned that Benjamin is a 22-year-old sports journalist, and Thomas is a 23-year-old IT major with dreams of being a professional (corporation-employed) hacker. They asked how Rachel and I know each other, and when I said, “Church,” they looked surprised, so I asked them (fully knowing the answer) if they grew up going to church.

The native Parisians told me that they are both agnostic and that in France, church is for old people. “It’s more of a tradition,” Thomas explained. So I asked what they believe happens when they die. Rachel squirmed, pleading with her eyes for me to stop. But the postmodern, open-minded, sophomoric French were interested in engaging in philosophical conversation. Besides, if I have to choose between temporary discomfort for us versus potentially eternal death for them, I will choose temporary discomfort every single time.

IMG_5751Benjamin seemed to think that we just fade to nothing when we die, and Thomas said diplomatically that we cannot know for sure until we actually die and experience the other side. I countered with a twinkle in my eye, “I believe I know for sure, and you can, too.” Rachel’s discomfort was now palpable. Wishing she would support me rather than being a stumbling block, I plunged ahead, sharing the gospel of Jesus with them. The boys seemed interested but not convinced, and I encouraged them that something of potentially eternal significance is probably worth exploring. We exchanged contact information, but now all I can do is pray the Holy Spirit works faith in them. They’ve heard the truth. I’m responsible for obedience and providing the input, but God is the only one who can determine the outcome.

Rachel and I said goodbye to the French boys and took the Metro to the Bastille to check the box (not much to see there); then we went back to (you guessed it!) Rue Cler where I enjoyed a burger and Pinot Noir at Cafe du Marche. I don’t normally like red wines, but this one was not too bitter; it had a subtle sweetness and was not too dry. We reflected on the day, got more LeNotre macaroons and took an evening stroll through the Palais de Challoit in view of the Eiffel Tower before retiring for the night. La perfection.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 3

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As a little girl, my favorite movie for years was “Anastasia”, the Fox animated film often mistaken for being a Disney movie. I loved Anastasia’s spunkiness and her effect on Dimitri, whose character development throughout their journey together is probably one of my favorite parts of the movie.

To my delight, our third day in Paris was an Anastasia-filled day. When I woke up, I watched the “Paris Hold the Key to Your Heart” clip from the movie while viewing the real Eiffel Tower in the background from the window of our Airbnb. On the way to breakfast, I heard “A bientot!” on the street – one of Anastasia’s last lines in the movie. Then we went to Palais Garnier where Anastasia and Dimitri attended the Russian Ballet in the film. It was a magical morning.

Before going to the opera house, Rachel and I had breakfast at Le Court D’Or. I ate un croissant au confiture (a croissant with jam) and also had my go-to of a cafe au lait (coffee with milk). The area boasted much of the Parisian haute couture, but Rachel and I just window shopped on our way to Palais Garnier.

IMG_5855.jpgNot only did Anastasia and Dimitri attend the ballet at this opera house, but more famously, it is the opera house of The Phantom of the Opera. Both the exterior and interior of Palais Garnier were absolutely gorgeous, with red velvet and gold and crystal chandeliers everywhere.

Not only was the architecture was stunning, but the history was fascinating. Apparently women used to sit in the perimeter boxes, and men sat in the orchestra seats because the wax from the candles on the grand chandelier would drip down onto the men’s hats, and the women wanted to protect their dresses and finery.

Separating myself from Rachel for a while (knowing she would be embarrassed of me), I meandered the ornate hallways singing “Think of Me”, and – on the balcony outside, overlooking the square – I quietly sang to myself “All I Ask of You” like Christine and Raoul do in the musical. I am a dreamer and a romantic, unashamed of occasionally being considered odd if it means I get to live out my daydreams. When I watch movies or read books, I live the stories with the characters and immerse myself in their adventures. If I were a bit braver and had planned more in advance, I might have even been tempted to cosplay like this fille:

Anastasia Cosplay

On the lower level of Palais Garnier were fashion sketches for the various ballets performed there. Since I have started doing more fashion illustration, I was thrilled to get to see some original Parisian fashion sketches. Overall, Palais Garnier was definitely one of my absolute favorite things we experienced in Paris.

IMG_5978.jpgAfter sampling Pierre Herme macaroons (recommended by Agathe but not as good as LeNotre), we stoped at Angelina for the reported world’s best cup of hot chocolate. It was basically like drinking liquid, melted Godiva chocolate – so rich that I (sweet tooth though I may have) could barely finish my small cup.

IMG_6001.jpgFilled to the brim with chocolaty goodness, Rachel and I walked to the Tuileries Garden and had just stopped to take some photos when I again heard an American accent. Glancing up the stairs behind us, I called out to three men in their late 30s, and we subsequently made more new friends. I am now connected with one of the men on LinkedIn and possibly have a lead on a new job as a result. Networking really can happen anywhere you go!

IMG_6057.jpgRachel and I continued on to the Louvre, which was honestly disappointing. Aggressive hawkers jangled miniature Eiffel Towers in our faces, insisting that we buy. “Only one Euro!” Tourists crowded seemingly every inch, both inside and outside of the museum. The Louvre maps were poorly done, and the bulk of the art was sculptures rather than paintings. Also unexpected was the light, airy interior. I’d expected dark, low ceilings and dirt floors – almost like catacombs filled with hidden treasures. Instead, it felt just like any other museum. But we wandered the Louvre’s highly-anticipated halls for about an hour, eventually finding both Michelangelo’s “Captive” and, of course, the Mona Lisa.

IMG_6099.jpgMoving on to Pont des Arts (the Love Lock Bridge), we were relieved to find it mostly deserted. The bulk of the famous “love locks” had been removed, but visitors had gotten creative in finding ways to declare their love with locks on railing and lanterns along the Seine. I played photographer for a young couple kissing in the rain on the bridge; then we got a couple of goat cheese salads at Le Terminus and called it a night, opting to get a good night’s sleep for the surely full day ahead.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 2

IMG_5639.jpgRachel and I started our second day in Paris with a mid-morning brunch at Le Tourville near Ecole Militaire. I ordered a Croque Monsieur and cafe au lait; then watched people hurrying through the morning rain from the safety of my covered awning.

While Rachel made use of the cafe’s Wi-fi connection, I met a nice German couple from Stuttgart and also made friends with our waiter, Leandre. He taught me some new phrases (“C’est bon”) and invited us to join him that evening at Hobo Club discotek.

Due to the EuroCup, Champs de Mars was closed to the public, but we were able to at least walk by, and in the process, we also passed right by the base of the Eiffel Tower. Circling back to Ecole Militaire, we found Rue Cler and enjoyed its Open Air Market despite the drizzling rain. Rachel bought raspberries, I got blueberries, and we strolled in the rain eating our bite-sized fruit.

IMG_5672.jpgAround the corner, we stumbled upon LeNotre. The little bakery specialized in macaroons, and although I have never liked macaroons in the US, I decided to try some, and they were the best macaroons I’ve ever had! Throughout the rest of the trip, Rachel and I ate a lot of macaroons, but no one – not even the famous Laduree – came close to LeNotre’s macaroons: soft and flavorful with just the right amount of chewiness.

While eating my strawberry hibiscus and dark chocolate macaroons, I accompanied Rachel to a bookstore where she bought a children’s book in French for her nephew. She has decided to buy him a book in every country she visits. He won’t be able to read them, but she thinks someday he will appreciate having a collection of children’s books in other languages. Time will tell.

In the afternoon, we made our way to Rue du Commerce, a street of boutiques where the locals shop. I got a really cute coral pencil skirt with scalloped edging. Afterward in the Metro, we got stuck behind a Polish football fan whose RATP card wouldn’t work, so Rachel gave him one of hers.

IMG_5743.jpg“Where you from?” he asked us, wondering at the kindness of strangers. When we told him America, he invited us for beers and to join them in watching the soccer match. I told him we were on our way to a cafe instead. “Cafe?! No, no no,” he said to me. “Cafe bad. Beer good!” the boisterous Polski declared with a grin before running off with his friends singing a song in Polish at the top of his lungs.

Back at Rue Cler (quickly becoming one of our favorite hideaways), Rachel and I each ordered cafe au lait and split a scrumptious raspberry tart at Le Petit Cler. Although the maitre d’ was outrageously rude, the food was delicious, and we made a lot of new friends:

  • 3 British soccer fans took a liking to us and poured us some champagne when I joked that, “obviously,” I was pulling for Britain in the EuroCup.
  • 2 Welsh guys in their 40s, one of whom (Garreth) took a liking to me and had a great, long conversation about politics (e.g. effect of the legal drinking age of 21 in the US and decline of the pub scene in Britain) as well as religion. Garreth just started reading his childhood bible about two months ago and invited us to the Half Penny Pub when he left. We got invited for drinks by nearly everyone we met!
  • 2 young, fashionable women were seated next to us at Le Petit Cler, and when I heard one of them speak, I picked up her American accent. Daria, as she soon introduced herself, turned out to be from my hometown, and she’d met Agathe – her French companion – when they both attended Fashion School in London.

IMG_5755.jpgRachel and I hit it off so well with Daria and Agathe that we all walked down the block to Cafe Central where Agathe insisted we all try the famous Berthillon gelato. I ordered the nut flavor, and it was delicious (similar to Nutella)! After we all exchanged contact information (yay for new friends!), we said good night (“bonne nuit”).

Our Metro line 6 skipped over our Passy stop, so Rachel and I got off at Trocadero and walked through the picturesque Palais de Chaillot – lit up at night – to get home to our shared full-sized bed and porta-shower at the top of our seven flights of stairs. I found that our temporary “home sweet home” made my actual home all the sweeter. C’est bon.

Authentically Aurora

The Macaroon Monologue

I recently got matched online with this amazing 29-year-old biomedical engineer:

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Better yet, this handsome fellow initiated a conversation with me and even asked – after a few rounds of emailing – if he could take me on a date! He seemed as entranced by me as I was with him. Could it be… love at first profile read?!

David was self-described as an athletic, adventurous, well-traveled, laid-back man who values quality time with family and friends. He is a team leader at a medical device development company who teaches bible study at his church and does volunteer work in his free time. Also:

Eharmony first impressionAdorable, right? I couldn’t wait to go out with him. David seemed like exactly the kind of guy I’d want to be with. Unfortunately, it turned out that David also thought he must be the kind of guy I’d want to be with. I discovered this fact about two hours into our date when I had yet to complete a full sentence without David interrupting me to tell me more awesome facts about himself.

Don’t get me wrong; I go on dates to learn more about the other person. Mission accomplished.

The thing is, I figured David might actually have asked me on this date to learn more about me. Wrong. Silly me.

Three hours into our date, I had given up trying to tell David anything about myself. At that point, I was just trying to get a word in edgewise so that I could excuse myself and LEAVE. I had been unwittingly taken hostage by a dashing, intelligent, accomplished and entirely self-absorbed man.

Long after the ice had melted in his iced mocha, David glanced down and took his first sip. I took the opportunity to “glance at the time” and tell him that I needed to head home. David smiled (I’ll admit it; he was right about having a great smile) and excused himself to get something that he’d left at the cash register of the cafe. Five minutes later, David returned with a box of two dozen dark chocolate macaroons, which he handed to me with a flourish.

“Your favorite, right?” His eyes twinkled.

I grinned and laughed inwardly, recalling that the only full sentence I had been able to get out was that I love dark chocolate. If only I’d mentioned that Tiffany watch I’ve been eying! C’est la vie.

Authentically Aurora